Part 2 of The Top Ten Genre Movies Of 2014, be sure to check out part 1 for #10-6.
Joon-ho Bong (The Host, the good one) has been one of the most fascinating genre filmmakers working out of Korea for over a decade. Working from a French comic book as source material, Snowpiercer was supposed to be his breakout film in North America. He got Chris Captain America Evans to headline a cast featuring the likes of Ed Harris, John Hurt, and Tilda Swinton for a trippy sci-fi action blockbuster with a brain. The results were as thrilling, funny, clever, and wildly entertaining as anything that he ever produced. It could have been a big hit. Then the Weinstein Company got hold of it, re-edited against Bong’s wishes for over a year and finally slipped it into a handful of theaters unceremoniously. It was unfair treatment for a frankly brilliant genre movie with scale, stars, smarts, and class. Thankfully, the movie will live forever in home video formats now and should eventually become the classic that it always should have been.
The bad wap on most mainstream horror flicks is that they are simplistic and uninspired. Sure, they are slick and pack jump scares and or gore, but rarely do they tickle the brain or dare to do anything different. Not Oculus. Mike Flanagan’s sophomore effort mixes up flashbacks and hallucinations in a clever, inspired, and above all deeply creepy little haunted mirror tale. Mercifully devoid of found footage trappings and other cheap gimmicks, it’s a skillfully crafted and undeniably effective little horror flick that already feels destined to be a cult classic. Other horror movies may have been flashier or more successful in 2014, but nothing else was as exquisitely constructed or capable of worming its way into memory. This is the type of horror movie that audiences used to be able to take for granted. Hopefully, Flanagan has quite a few more of them planned for a long career.
3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America was always my least favorite Marvel hero and yet somehow Kevin Feige and co. have given me two Cap films that rank amongst my favorite superhero flicks of all time. Borrowing liberally from the style and structure (if not the specific story beats) of Ed Brubaker’s influential Winter Soldier plotline, the movie cleverly contrasts Captain America’s old timey US values against the corruption of contemporary government. It’s a 70s paranoid thriller a la The Parallax View (Robert Redford even appears) with a superhero at the center. That’s a damn witty way to play with Cap in modern times and for good measure the co-directing Russo Brothers also served up the most visceral and physical action scenes of the entire Marvel cannon. It’s one hell of a blockbuster centered around a character who I never imagined I’d like. God damn it Marvel. You did it again.
2) The Lego Movie
If this list was for “The Most Charming Movies Of 2014” then The Lego Movie would be number one with a bullet. In an age when branded product-shifting blockbusters like Transformers or Battleship are the norm, The Lego Movie should have been a project to dread, another one of those empty wastes of Hollywood resources designed purely to sell products. Thankfully, the movie fell into the hands of the distinctly irreverent filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street, Clone High). In Lord and Miller’s hands, The Lego Movie transformed into a hysterically funny pop culture explosion that lovingly takes the piss out of the Lego universe as well as an unexpectedly moving exploration of the power of imagination that those little plastic blocks have provided for generations of children. The animation is beautifully plastic, the voice sheer joy on the big screen last year than The Lego Movie. It was an unexpected treat and one that likely won’t be topped for quite some time.
1) The Guardians Of The Galaxy
Finally, there was only one possible movie that could top this list. It’s not often that the highest grossing movie of any given year is also arguably the best. But it’s also not often that a movie a singularly entertaining as Guardians Of The Galaxy comes along. It was a big risk for Marvel, not only reviving a barely popular space opera comic series from the 70s, but handing directing duties over to James Gunn (whose hard R horror and Troma roots are about as far from Disney blockbuster standards as humanly possibly). Thankfully, this is one of those cases where all of the risks paid off. Gunn delivered the closest thing to Star Wars that audiences have seen in a long time. His candy colored aesthetic, oddball casting (Chris Pratt as action hero, Michael Rooker as Disney villain), sardonic wit, and narrative invention delivered a blockbuster so purely entertaining that it should be held up as an ideal example of the form (and likely will be knocked off for quite a while for that very reason). It’s the closest thing that Marvel’s Phase 2 has given us to the unexpected excitement of the first Iron Man flick. A blockbuster that raised the bar for Marvel movies with an obscure property that seemed destined to fail. Pretty good plan, guys. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming next.
Afflicted, Birdman, Citizenfour, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, The Double, The Edge Of Tomorrow (or Live, Die, Repeat), A Field In England, Foxcatcher, Godzilla, The Guest, The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies, Interstellar, Jodorowsky’s Dune, John Wick, Lucy, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Raid 2, The Sacrament, Tusk, 22 Jump Street, Under The Skin, Willow Creek, Wolf Creek 2
A Particularly Honourable Mention: The Babadook
This masterful directorial debut from Jennifer Kent uses a haunted pop up book to explore deep rooted parental fears and fairy tale monster thrills. The Babadook is a brilliant bit of work, but I left it off the list because it hasn’t yet been released in Canada even though it’s been a massive critical success in the US. Hopefully, that’ll be sorted out in the New Year. This movie will be released in Canada in some form eventually and when it does, do whatever you can to see it.
The Worst Genre Movie Of The Year: Transcendence
Utter trash with no redeeming value. Not even goofy enough to earn camp status down the line. Just drearily, boringly bad and unfit for human consumption.